Following the recent terrorist attacks, attention has focused on the Brussels municipality of Molenbeek, where some of the perpetrators of the attacks were based. Bart Cammaerts writes that while Belgium undoubtedly has a long-standing problem with radical Islam, the reasons for this are also present in many other countries across Europe. He argues that all European countries will need to reflect internally on how they treat their own Muslim citizens if they are to tackle the root causes of radicalisation.
Since the Paris attacks, a number of commentators have wondered why ‘boring’ Belgium has suddenly become the epicentre of political Islam in Europe. Some media sources have even labelled the Brussels municipality of Molenbeek the ‘jihadi capital of Europe’.
However, while it is true that Belgium has a long-standing problem with radicalisation, many of the reasons for this are as much present in other European countries and capitals, including France. At the same time, we should not forget that it is a problem concerning relatively small numbers of individuals, which has nevertheless been blown out of proportion due to the spectacular nature of the attacks being carried out by jihadi fighters in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Europe.
But why is it that Belgium counts the highest number of Syrian fighters per capita in Europe? How can we explain the relatively high numbers of Belgian born young boys, mainly from Moroccan descent, that feel attracted to extreme forms of Islam, such as Salafism? The answer to these questions is complex and varied and it does not make any sense to privilege one factor over and above others.
I would say, however, that an important factor lies with the way in which European societies such as Belgium – but also France for that matter – have treated what I have called ‘the other within’ over the last few decades. Although these youngsters were born in Belgium or France, have Belgian and French citizenship, went to school there and are part of ‘us’, they are very often not treated as such, rather they are made to feel second or even third class citizens.
This manifests itself early on in the education system, which is failing them, but also in terms of the free and open circulation of deeply racist discourses in western society, as well as through the structural discrimination individuals experience when trying to find a job or housing later on in life. These factors have subsequently created a huge degree of understandable anger and frustration amongst these young people, which is now being exploited by those who want to channel such frustrations towards extremist ideologies and violent actions.
Linked to this, and exasperating the feelings of frustration, we should also consider the way in which the legal system and the police deal with these young people, using persistent stop and search methods and racial profiling in such a way that many ordinary non-radicalised Muslim youngsters feel constantly intimidated and targeted by the police and security forces. They are also more often charged with minor offences of a kind which ‘white’ Belgian youths are perceived as getting away with. Again, this repressive context is one example of many through which western European societies let ‘the other within’ know that they are not welcome and not one of them, which unavoidably creates yet further incentives for radicalisation.
What has also played a role in Belgium – as it has in France – is the existence of a far-right movement that is particularly strong in electoral terms. In the early 2000s, the Flemish far-right party Vlaams Blok (relaunched as Vlaams Belang in 2004) had substantial electoral successes, receiving over 24 per cent of the vote in the 2004 regional elections in Flanders.
In contrast to Austria, Italy and the Netherlands, however, democratic parties in Belgium pledged to keep the far-right out of power at all levels of governance – at the time this was called the cordon sanitaire. A problematic side-effect of this important and necessary democratic defence strategy was that genuine problems with government integration policies and issues within migrant communities, such as increasing radicalisation, were not openly discussed or addressed in democratic debates given this would (especially at that time) be seen as pandering to far-right populist ideologies.
Additionally, the international environment has played an important role in the increasing radicalisation of many young Muslims in Belgium and beyond. This international dimension manifests itself at different levels. It could be seen in terms of the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the funding of Salafist inspired Mosques. The Israel-Palestine conflict is another global contextual factor contributing to anger and frustration among Muslim youths, as are the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, fuelled by the West and Sunni/Shiite tensions.
Finally, the internet and social media is also a transnational contributing factor, localising global struggles and opening up new ways to recruit vulnerable young people. This also means that parents, as well as Imams, who very often have not grown up in the communities where they are preaching, frequently lose touch with the lives of Muslim youngsters in Europe.
Ultimately, while attention is now on Belgium and its failures in dealing with the creeping radicalisation of some of its young Muslim citizens, the reasons for this radicalisation are relevant to many other European countries and cannot be reduced to any one factor alone. Above all, European countries must show the courage to reflect internally on how they treat their own Muslim citizens in their educational systems, their job and housing markets, and in everyday life.
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Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics. Featured image: a Muslim woman in Belgium, 2010. Credit: Islam Times
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Bart Cammaerts – LSE
Bart Cammaerts is Associate Professor and Director of the PhD Programme in the LSE’s Department of Media and Communications.
This observed ‘free and open circulation of deeply racist discourses in western societies’ seems rather pivotal to the arguement of this piece, but it would be good to have a reference as to what this relates to? Also it would be nice to have some comparison about good and bad points across European polities as otherwise it’s quite difficult to know if anything positive is being done about integration which states can follow.
Jews were treated very badly by the Third Reich. Did they become terrorists?
Why are Muslims not being radicalised against extremist forms of Islam by seeing people being slaughtered in Muslim countries like the Lebanon, Iraq and Kuwait?
What does it take to radicalise Muslims against extremism?
I take it that you – and John from Jersey – have not heard of the likes of Irgun? Or perhaps you simply don’t define bombings, poisoning of water supplies and shooting people in the back of the head etc etc as ‘terrorism’?
This is not ‘whataboutery’ or attempting to downplay Islamic terrorism, but just an attempt to actually get some basic historic facts correct, since you’ve clearly both decided that one religious group (in a very generalised sense) can have blame foisted on it, while another is entirely innocent.
I have heard of Irgun. My example was the Third Reich. Irgun operated in Palestine, with the aim of getting refuge for Jews in what later became Israel.
Irgun was not because Jews were treated badly in Nazi Germany, but because Jews had become refugees and resorted to terrorism to get what they wanted.
My first paragraph did add the qualifying statement: “(with some individual exceptions, as is true for all groups of people)”. So it was not stated or implied that anyone is “entirely innocent”. But to build on your statement, if we analyze this from a public relations perspective, how many such incidents occur in other parts of the world?
In summary, your message to Belgians and non-Muslim Europeans is this: Islamic imperialism is your fault and, if you challenge it, the resulting violence will be your fault too. So lie down and die.
My questions is to you and to others generally is this :
Why can it be that the followers of the Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian and many other religions can live, prosper and succeed side by side within our secular European societies but large sections of the Muslim communities within Europe cannot ? ? ?.
What baring if any do you think that when describing themselves Muslim more often than not describe themselves as Muslim and not French , German , British ect ? ? ?
This is a fantastic article reminding us that millions of Muslims are treated badly in Europe, laying the seeds for terrorism.
This gives some idea of the scale of the terrorism threat we face. Muslims in many countries are treated like third class citizens, and millions are treated thusly.
I am getting seriously tired of articles like this suggesting that radicalisation of young Muslims in Europe can be made the responsibility of Europe and the Europeans. Part of the reason why police stop and search young male immigrants in certain districts of most Western European capitals is because a disproportionately high percentage of them are involved in crime and carrying weapons. In my home city of London there are stabbings and shootings of teenagers and young men on the streets almost every week. Even the most cursory piece of research will prove that most such murders are committed by young immigrants on young people from different immigrant communities. Are the police supposed to ignore this so as not to ‘alienate’ them? Doing so in the name of Softly-Softly-Don’t-Offend is partly what’s created this situation in the first place. As to ‘deeply racist discourses’ in Western societies, that is a crass generalisation of which you should be ashamed. On the international front, there are a lot of things there that offend me too – Saudi treatment of women, Iranian harassment of non-Muslim minorities, ISIS’s abuse and slaughter of Christian communities in the Middle East to name but three. I don’t use my frustration and anger as an excuse for acts of mass murder, and I’m disgusted that you do. Lastly, on integration, may I suggest that it takes two to tango. You cannot integrate anyone who doesn’t want to be integrated, and many of these young men to whom you refer don’t. What they want is to be allowed to live exactly as they want and would do in their countries of origin (or those of their families for those born in Europe) with their own religion, social mores and traditions but in Belgium, or whichever European country it is. Perhaps in your next article you might consider the ‘frustration’ and ‘anger’ many indigenous Europeans feel about that and about having a ‘racist’ label slapped on them for the slightest suggestion that these young men are not all the abused, justifiably-indignant victims you portray them as. Apart from anything else, writing an article that if it doesn’t justify their action, at least implicitly excuses it, does the majority of law-abiding immigrants in Europe no favours at all, and it’s downright insulting to all Europeans, whatever their origin, in current circumstances.
There is only one strand of Islam currently responsible for this mayhem: the Wahabi interpretation, pushed in the 18th century. Salafist/Wahabi mosques are all over Europe. Funded from the Gulf
If I start a Christian Church, & tell my followers to treat all who do not believe in my views as worthy of being “killed & their wives and children violated”, would I not be charged with incitement to murder?
Even Muslims who dare to differ are being intimidated, or even killed. My late uncle suffered in their hands for not being Muslim enough.
Yet, the main backers of this offensive ideology are being courted around Europe.
But the very diverse profiles of these extremists goes against the dogma that they’re all marginalised, poor, “2nd class citizens” (unless you’re arguing that by default all children of foreign born parents from North Africa are made to feel second class) etc. Sure, marginalisation has to be adressed, poverty too, many things. But to say that somehow addressing necessarily reduces the risk of extremism is a total red herring.
Concurrently with addressing marginalisation, European leaders also have to be able to say that, yes, as a society, culture, peoples, we DO have limits, and boundaries, that you can only be so pluralistic, that some extreme practices, ideologies – whether political, religous or otherwise – are criminal, and poverty or marginalisation won’t be a cop out.
You have many other poor, marginalised communities in Belgium for whom this form of extremism would never be acceptable, so it may be wiser to not conflate the two, unless you’re just looking for easy answers.
The author seems to contradict himself. If, indeed, the radicalisation of islam concerns a “relatively small numbers of individuals, which has nevertheless been blown out of proportion”, then is it indeed justified to blame the existing policy for it? Also, we are not taking petty crimes or riots which are easy to blame on the notorious ghetto culture. Recourse to terrorism requires a completely different way of thinking and cannot be reduced to the usual suspects the author is referring to. Its causes are simply different and my guess is that in the modern Western world they are linked to the search of the purpose in life more than anything else. Think about young UK muslims (girls especially!) fleeing their homes to join IS in Syria. Is that because somebody failed them in particular? Or it’s because they were bored and silly while somewhere out there, on the other end of the world, who they’d never met before was showing them a beautiful picture full of meaning, new and exiting.
Thus article is a complete insult, not only to the people who are being terrorised by Islamist violence, but to the millions of immigrants to Europe who work hard and integrate, and don’t resort to obscene violence when they don’t achieve their life ambitions.
The writer obviously has no idea or experience of what is happening in Belgium. Here are the facts, every immigrant or person born in Belgium of foreign descent get the same access to education, the health system (ranked one of the best in the word) and social housing (some would claim even quicker than indigenous Belgians. Very young immigrant children do quite well in the early years at school it’s when they get older the issues raise their heads. Most Belgian parents will support their children in school whilst most immigrant parents don’t really “get” how important it is to ensure their children do well in school, things such as homework, extra lessons, etc. As a result an awful lot, the majority, leave school with little education and find it tough get a decent job. Our Moroccan community plays little part in Belgian life, the exception probably is football, you never see one riding in a cycling club, playing tennis, jogging/athletics or taking part in typical Belgian social events. They would be welcomed with open arms if they made an effort the truth is they don’t the impression they give is that want to live like they did in Morocco (or from which country they have come from). Belgian has seen waves of immigration in the past, Poles, Italians, Spanish, eastern European Jews, Chinese and lately Indians, all seem to integrate well. There is a gigantic challenge with our north African population, trust me they want nothing to do with us or Belgium. Yes there is resentment, you can see and feel it but the solution is in their hands. Go to school, get an education, consider your dress when applying for a job.There are success stories here but they are far too few. Pinning it on some sort “social exclusion” and the Vlaams Belang is quite frankly idiotic.
Before making sweeping pronouncements tinged with leftist self-criticism of Western society’s failures regarding Muslim integration and straying into the “political correctness”territory, the author would be well advised to perform a deeper research including readings and listening to contemporary critics from within Islamic world, such as:
Somali-Born Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
Saudi-Born Singer Shams Bandar:
I rest my case.
This title of this article should be re-named “Excuses, excuses, excuses, let’s instead blame the victims”.
The central theme of this article is very misguided by it somehow blaming European society for the “creation” of these terrorists (instead of blaming the specific individual terrorists/criminals themselves for their evil acts). For instance, the article states in paragraph 4 that “…although these youngsters were born in Belgium or France, have Belgian and French citizenship, went to school there and are part of ‘us’, they are very often not treated as such, rather they are made to feel second or even third class citizens”, so this somehow justifies them hating European society and it is a justification for some of them to become terrorists. So let’s take that same quote, but change the context to Jewish people in 1930’s Germany by saying that “…although these…[Jewish]… youngsters were born in…[Germany]… Belgium or France, have…[German]… Belgian and French citizenship, went to school there and are part of ‘us’, they are very often not treated as such, rather they are made to feel second or even third class citizens”. Nobody can deny the mistreatment of the Jewish population in Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s (not too mention throughout history), but did they turn on society and become terrorists? No! Is the article insinuating that the alleged mistreatment of young European Muslims is greater than the actual mistreatment of Jewish youngsters in the 1930’s and 1940’s, thus they are justified to cause mayhem today? Jews as a “people/race” went from concentration camps to becoming doctors, lawyers, bankers, business owners, teachers, artists, actors, musicians, authors, etc….; the point being that despite the evil they experienced, Jewish people are known for what they truly are: model citizens in any country/city they may reside (with some individual exceptions, as is true for all groups of people). But the above quote also applies to Christians being mistreated in Muslim countries like Egypt or Turkey, as they are treated as 2nd class citizens; but do they become terrorists within their home country? No! So please stop the excuses and false justifications for the few who commit horrific acts.
The article goes on to say in paragraph 5 that “…in terms of the free and open circulation of deeply racist discourses in western society, as well as through the structural discrimination individuals experience when trying to find a job or housing later on in life. These factors have subsequently created a huge degree of understandable anger and frustration amongst these young people, which is now being exploited by those who want to channel such frustrations towards extremist ideologies and violent actions”. This quote fails on at least two grounds. First, the quote is trying to create a link between the failures of some people in Europe to an alleged/imagined “deeply racist discourses in western society”; but the above paragraph referencing the success of Jews in Europe after their actual (not imagined) devastation in WWII is evidence that people can overcome past discrimination and become successful. Also, if the ethnic French and ethnic Belgians are that “racist” towards other groups of people, then why haven’t French-Chinese, French-Indians, French-Brazilians, etc… also been that disenfranchised that they too would commit acts of terrorism in Europe? Moreover, this quote does not explain why similar terrorism by similar people occurs in non-European countries (ex. sub-Saharan Africa, India, etc…); is it because of alleged discrimination there too, or is it other reasons that go beyond the scope of this article? Second, despite the article’s misplaced allegations of blaming ethnic Europeans, if I myself happened to be a young Muslim in Europe, my anger would be directed towards the extremists who created this “public relations” fiasco/nightmare for young innocent Muslims globally, as opposed to directing my anger towards the ethnic Europeans. As for the extremists who created this mess, where does the list of global terrorist acts begin and end by this minority, who in turn make the innocent majority a lightning-rod for criticism: the World Trade Center bombing in 1993; then later the World Trade Center destruction on 9/11; or the London bombings in 2005; the recent killings in Tunisia at both the Bardo Museum and at the beach resort; the Russian airliner in Egypt; the marketplace bombings in sub-Saharan Africa; the kidnapping of hundreds of girls in Nigeria for forced marriages (rape/slavery); the Mumbai attacks in 2008; etc… Or if human life is that insignificant to the extremists, how about the destruction of ancient antiquities, such as those in Palmyra; the destruction of Timbuktu monuments; the destruction of ancient Buddhas in Afganistan; etc… Additionally, it doesn’t help to hear stories of the Gulf States spending big money on indoctrinating the youth to extremism, instead of spending the money on practical education and/or job training (ex. medicine, engineering, computer skills, construction, etc…) or on housing, hospitals, charity, economic empowerment, etc… These global despicable acts (including violent acts on their fellow Muslims who are actually the biggest victims of the extremists) cannot in good faith be blamed on the ethnic Europeans (or as the article is insinuating, “blame whitey”). That being said, if some extremist person(s) had tainted my good name and reputation (along with that of my family and fellow people, and of my religion), then I would dedicate my life to defeating the extremists and rehabilitating my good name and reputation, and that of my religion; yet we do not hear too many of these stories.
Next, the article states in paragraph 6 that the police use “…persistent stop and search methods and racial profiling in such a way that many ordinary non-radicalised Muslim youngsters feel constantly intimidated and targeted by the police and security forces”. But the article fails to mention some important points. First, these geographic areas that are referenced are high crime areas. Second, if the person is innocent and is not carrying/concealing any illegal object/substance, then that specific person has no reason to fear the police. Third, if a person is innocent and not involved in criminal activity, then that person would feel much safer knowing that the police are proactive in pursuing criminals within their neighborhood. So if anything, an innocent person should be grateful for aggressive policing, as opposed to being ungrateful. So it begs the question, who is actually protesting aggressive policing tactics; the innocent or the guilty? If any innocent person is protesting these tactics despite their high crime neighborhoods, then they in fact are magnifying their own problems, and it is unfortunate that the loud out-spoken minority voices drown out the voices of the truly innocent living in those neighborhoods who actually appreciate the police presence (which is likely the silent majority of the local neighborhood population).
Lastly (but getting off topic), as to the “chicken or the egg theory” in the context of this article, both sides have people who must claim some blame as to the cause of these conflicts, and both sides have innocent victims to claim. But being that this article is one-sided, my reply will mention the following historical events for the author to consider: the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land in 636 A.D. (which indirectly led to The Crusades); the Moorish invasion in Europe beginning in 711 A.D and ending about 1492 A.D. (which ultimately led to the expulsion of Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula); Ottoman rule over the Middle East and Northern Africa that kept the local populations in the “Dark Ages” for centuries (while Europe flourished with the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, with the failures of the Ottoman Empire ending with WWI that led to the partitioning of the Middle East and North Africa by the Western powers); the estimated one million European slaves seized by Barbary Pirates (which indirectly led to the French conquering Algiers); etc… Yet despite the above chronological “causes” and “effects”, the narrative of the extremists and this article focuses on the “effect” instead of the “cause”. So before the article can credibly lay blame on the ethnic Europeans by it essentially citing to extremist recruitment literature as its “facts”, why don’t we have a discussion as to how the “conflicts” began (which of course is not even relevant today as those events occurred centuries ago or even millennia ago, for which it is complete lunacy for people today to hold grudges for events that occurred a millennia/centuries ago. Imagine [for example] if an Italian today sought vengeance against Tunisians today solely because Hannibal and the Carthaginians attacked ancient Rome; that would be sheer madness. Both sides can point fingers blaming each other ad infinitum, or they can just learn from history, stop provoking each other, live in peace, and just “move on”). Thus the article fails in its attempt to excuse the terrorists via shifting the blame upon the ethnic Europeans, because the only link to a terrorist act is that of unreasonable and evil individuals.
So I applaud the author of this article because by him raising these tunnel vision-like bullet-point facts through a microscopic “cataract-stricken historical lens” lacking historical context, (instead of a telescopic “historical lens” that sees the big-picture with a wide-range of historical context), he is intentionally ignoring the points in history that refute his position. This historical revisionism and historic self-delusion as to the “cause and effect” of reprehensible acts does successfully encourage debate with his mistaken conclusions within this article. But I will admit that I academically appreciate the unintended Seinfeld-like dark comedy premise of this article; specifically, when George Costanza told Jerry Seinfeld that “it’s not a lie if you believe it”. Apparently, this George Costanza quote was the inspiration for this author; however, nobody is laughing.
Thanks for this. Absolutely ridiculous article.
“Radicalisation” – the latest “get out of gaol free” card. Evidently, if you commit terrorist atrocities its because you have been radicalised, therefore you’re not to blame, in fact the victims are to blame because they are part of a society which has discriminated against you (it doesn’t matter if you kill other Muslims, its still not your fault).
As others on here have already pointed out why doesn’t Europe (and other areas) have gangs of terrorist Sikhs, Buddhists’, Hindus, Jains, Christians, Yazedis and so on slaughtering people on tube trains, those attending a rock concert and so on. If we are going down the discriminated against route, why don’t we have “radicalised” LGBT people, women, Asians, the disabled, Chinese etc. conducting terrorist attacks?
Muslim terrorists are wholly to blame for their rape of young girls and women, murder of women children and men, the destruction of humanities heritage, killing kids in schools, shooting little girls in the head for wanting to be educated, the list is endless.
Most people in Europe have had enough, the worm has well and truly turned
If we were to extrapolate the ridiculous theme of this article, it would blame the “racist” and “xenophobic” German females for marginalizing and thus radicalizing these upstanding young men because the females rejected these guys’ advances, thus the men got frustrated and assaulted these females in Cologne and other German cities on New Years Eve.